The remnants of the legendary promotion-winning team of 2020 have been slowly phased out of Elland Road since Marcelo Bielsa’s departure in February 2022. And whilst it pained Leeds fans to see the likes of Kalvin Phillips, Ben White and Ezgjan Alioski no longer walk out onto Elland Road regularly, it’s arguable that the imminent departure of Mateusz Klich may be what hurts fans most, as it is clear that out of anyone from that 2020 squad, the Polish international fit the mould of a “Bielsa player” the most.
Saved by the Bielsa
Klich had a pretty tough start to life in England, after signing from FC Twente in July 2017. Managing only 1 league start and 5 league appearances in the first half of the 17/18 Championship season, Klich was loaned out back to Holland where he played 14 Eredivisie games for FC Utrecht. After struggling to get any sufficient game time under Thomas Christiansen, things were looking bleak for Klich, and it seemed like he’d be going back to Holland permanently in the summer of 2018. However, the arrival of Marcelo Bielsa changed his career forever.
The opening day of the 18/19 season came with yet another manager in the Elland Road dugout and the same pessimism that surrounded the visit of recently relegated Premier League sides. This time it was Stoke City that faced Leeds. Marcelo Bielsa named a team of regular starting names from the season prior, except for Klich. It took just one game into the season for the Pole to match the number of starts he made in the season prior, and he made a huge impression, scoring the first goal under Bielsa 15 minutes into the eventual 3-1 victory. Klich would go on to feature in all but one game that season (his only absence coming in the FA cup defeat to QPR), picking up 10 goals and 9 assists in 50 competitive Leeds games.
Becoming a fan favourite
In that one season, Klich became a mainstay in a side vying for promotion. He added to his 50 appearances the season prior with 47 in the 19/20 season in all competitions. He appeared in all but one league game, his one absence coming away at Derby County after a weekend of promotion celebrations, and finished the league campaign with 6 goals, 5 assists and a goal-of-the-season contender against Middlesborough.
It was during the summer of 2020 that Klich started to connect with Leeds’ fans more and more due to his sheer personality. Between his hilarious celebrations on that promotion night, his cigar smoking and then his ‘champions’ artwork that remains at Elland Road to this day, Klich is a man of the people, and it was from this summer that the supporters knew it would be tough to say goodbye to the Polish international when the time would come.
Life in the Premier League
However, it seemed that if Bielsa was at the helm, Klich would be going nowhere. In his first season in the Premier League, Klich made 35 appearances, scoring 4 and assisting 5. It was during this season that Bielsa stated that Klich could play for any top team in the world. However, his form dropped the season after, much like everyone else’s at Leeds, but it was emerging that Klich perhaps wasn’t up to the standard required for the Premier League in his early 30s.
Klich only managed 1 goal and 2 assists in the 21/22 season, a season which saw Bielsa leave in favour of Jesse Marsch. However, Klich did manage 33 appearances and in a season riddled with injuries and a lack of depth in the midfield, Klich’s constant availability was a bonus, even if his influence on the team had dropped somewhat. With midfield upgrades coming in in the summer, and a winter World Cup that would prove to be Klich’s last, the Pole had a decision to make ahead of the new season.
The road to Qatar
Klich hadn’t been in the greatest form going into the 22/23 season and would have needed regular minutes to persuade Czesław Michniewicz to include him in his Polish squad ahead of the 2022 World Cup in November. With Tyler Adams and Marc Roca being signed in his position, it would’ve been tough to break through for the 32-year-old, however, Marsch saw Klich as a valuable backup and didn’t want to lose him, even if it was on a 6-month loan. Klich was promised a fair crack at the starting eleven, and therefore he stayed on for the new season.
However, Klich was reduced to bench cameos all season, only playing up to 30 minutes in 11 Premier League games this season so far. As a result, Klich was left out of the Polish squad for the World Cup, and from that moment, it seemed that the writing was on the wall for Klich at Leeds United. A solid backup midfielder in the Premier League now, he would have to leave if he was to get any regular football.
Where to next?
As much as it saddens Leeds’ fans to see Klich leave, it seems a formality that we should get used to soon, with the rumour mill turning as the media questions where his next destination will be. Here are three potential next steps for the Polish International:
DC United (or any other MLS club)
Per Tom Bogert, and other American sources, Klich seems to be on his way to play in America ahead of their 2023 season in February in a move that will see him play under former Derby boss Wayne Rooney. This transfer, whether it be to the Washington club or any other MLS side, will be the one that will most likely benefit Klich the most monetarily, whilst also giving him the opportunity to be an older head in a constantly improving, youthful league.
Back to Poland: Lech Poznan
Klich has only appeared in the Polish first division 56 times in his career, so what better time for him to return to Poland to see his career off? Poznan currently sits 6th in the league with a Conference League round-of-32 matchup against Bodo/Glimt to look forward to. Klich would be playing European football for the first time in his career and will bring some Premier League experience and quality to the Polish league.
Back to the Championship: Burnley
This is easily the least likely of the three, but I reckon if Klich wants to get some more silverware under his belt then a move to the current Championship league leaders is a safe bet. Vincent Kompany has got this Burnley side playing free-flowing, attacking football in a formation similar to how Bielsa would line up. As much as Jack Cork is a legend at Burnley and Josh Brownhill has 10 goal involvements in 21 games, adding Klich would improve the side (if any improvement is needed that is).
A legend departs
As much as every Leeds fan would want Klich to stay, it does seem that he’s on his way out in the next month and, if he does, he’s left an admirable legacy behind him across 192 appearances for the whites. From scoring the first goal under Bielsa to scoring the first Premier League goal in front of a packed Elland Road since 2004 and providing a character that the fans fell in love with over time, if Klich does leave, his Leeds career is nothing to turn your nose up at.